Ottawa, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 07/25/13
Personal Experiences from Ottawa, Canada
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Fourth experience including Europe, Asia, and Mexico.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
It takes about 6 hours with connections to reach Denver or other regional airports (and it is not cheap).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
The contributor is family member affiliated with the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We chose an older house within walking distance to work and schools. Others live in apartments even closer to work or in large houses on the edge of town. (there is something for everyone).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Ogdensburg must be the smallest town in New York to have a Walmart because half of Ottawa makes the trip across the border for cheaper milk, chicken, and anything made in China.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, just expect to pay a deposit for every account you open (cell, bank, cable, rent...).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Canada is about 30% more expensive for everything but it is all available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
About the same as D.C. or Chicago.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy has a mail bag, many Canadians have a PO box in New York.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It is available, I expect the rates are the same as DC.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, including in many office buildings.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
U.S. credit cards work just fine. Expect the locals to be confused a little as they all have a chip in their cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
A complete telecom bundle is about US$125, just read the fine print.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English gets you everywhere but French would be expected if you work outside the Embassy.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Navigating the snow drifts. The building are mostly accessible but sidewalks and roads slowly shrink over the winter.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
It is all safe. The bus runs about US$3 per ride or US$100 per month.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Just bring winter tires (not studded snow tires).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, the rates are always changing so best to just check before you arrive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bell, Rogers, and Telus are the big ones up here. Many Americans keep their plans and add a "North America" plan.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Cats and dogs are very common and are expected to be perfectly behaved. I would expect the care to be very good.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
NO! An Ontario teacher certificate is required to be a substitute teacher and the local university floods the market, making it very competitive. The embassy has reduced the number of positions open to family members as part of the ongoing Federal budget issues.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business formal (same as DC).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is present but not available! They will see you in the ER or dentist office but any chronic care will require a trip to the U.S.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
6 months of winter, a short spring where anything and everything grows, a warm muggy summer, and a beautiful fall.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No international or American schools. Every public and private school has the same curriculum set by the province. The schools focus on mastery and development so expect the material to be behind the U.S. They also do not want to pressure the students so do not expect detailed feedback or any type of criticism. It is especially hard to move in or out at the end of 9th & 11th grade as the math programs are not in sync. Our kids enjoy all of it but it has been a challenge.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The public schools make standard accommodations for mild to moderate special needs (I don't know about severe). The private schools make little to no accommodations.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, expect most sports including hockey and basketball to start in September. Football starts in early August.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Depends on how you feel about winter.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
After a year or so the neighbors will start talking. Most socializing is through work, kids schools or sports clubs.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Elementary school age families seem to really enjoy it. Singles and couples should expect to bring their own fun. Little to no expat community.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It seems accepting and boring.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that I have heard of. Ottawa is a diverse town and Canadians seem to be better traveled than Americans.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The kids can walk to public school, day camp, and play hockey in the street with the neighbors.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Every outdoor activity you can think of: biking, running, snowshoeing, skiing, skating, sledding, curling, boating. They also have a few museums and theaters.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Winter sports, hiking, fishing, as a mid-sized city it is very walkable.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, as long as you rely on the public events and parks.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, it is a great place for the kids and the work can be interesting.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
I guess your gun collection.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience. It looks like the U.S. but everything just takes time.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Slings and Arrows series, The Don Cherry Story
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Power of Why was written by a local reporter, anything by Margaret Atwood, The Game by Ken Dryden.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Canada is a different country and they do things their own way. They also think a lot about the US and think we think as much about them.